Become a Certified Behavior Analyst: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a certified behavior analyst. Research the education requirements, training and licensure information, and experience required for starting a career in behavior analysis.

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Do I Want to Be a Certified Behavior Analyst?

A certified behavior analyst works with children and adults to improve performance at school or work and to mitigate the effects of disabilities. He or she would observe and record the behavior of a client and devise a plan utilizing conditioning and reinforcement methods to retrain the client to change his or her automatic responses to new, more productive ones.

A behavior analyst might work at a school, a client's home, a clinic, or a client's workplace. many behavior analysts work full-time, though those that are self-employed may control their own schedules and set their own hours, working fewer than 40 per week if they so choose. There is a small risk of personal harm while working with clients that have behavioral issues or emotional control problems.

Job Requirements

Behavior analysis is regulated to varying degrees at the state level. Some states require licensure for analysts, while others do not. To become fully certified, professionals must hold a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, complete 1,500 hours in a supervised independent fieldwork placement and pass a national examination. The following table presents the requirements for starting a career as a certified behavior analyst:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree*
Degree Field Behavior analysis*
Licensure and Certification State licensure varies according to state*; national certification is required by many employers**
Experience 1,500 hours of work experience is required to qualify for certification*
Key Skills Observation skills, ability to communicate with and train staff, ability to communicate with clients' families, analytical skills**

Sources: *Behavior Analysis Certification Board, **Job listings from CareerBuilder.com, September 2012.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step toward becoming a behavior analyst is completing a bachelor's degree program. Students can choose to major in any field, but opting for a related field such as psychology, education or social work might better prepare a student for graduate school.

Success Tip:

  • Gain experience in behavior analysis. Many graduate programs require that students complete a work experience related to behavior analysis or otherwise demonstrate a commitment to the field. Completing an internship or work experience can have other benefits, too, such as putting students in touch with professionals who might be able to supply letters of recommendation for graduate school applications.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

A master's degree program in behavior analysis typically covers theory and techniques of behavior therapy and includes practical hands-on training courses and an independent capstone experience or thesis. Students are trained to evaluate clients, develop and implement treatment programs and track a clients' progress. Electives often allow students to focus on a specific developmental disorder. Master's programs typically last two years.

Step 3: Complete a Supervised Independent Fieldwork Placement

The Behavior Analysis Certification Board (BACB) publishes stipulations that define an appropriate fieldwork placement. Certification candidates must complete 1,500 hours of work experience, usually undertaken over the course of one year. Of those 1,500 hours, at least 75 hours must be directly supervised by an approved behavior analyst or behavior analysis instructor.

Step 4: Become Certified

The BACB administers the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) certification examination and advises candidates to apply for the exam through the BACB website. Application requires verification of all coursework and experience requirements. Once a candidate's application has been accepted, he or she can schedule a date to take the computer-based exam, which is available across the U.S. throughout January, May and September. Once a candidate has received verification that he or she has passed the exam, he or she will be added to the certificant registry and can begin to use the title BCBA.

Step 5: Maintain Certification

Certification must be renewed annually by paying a fee to the BACB. Analysts must recertify every three years by submitting evidence of completing 36 continuing education credits or retaking the certification exam. Approved continuing education options include completing or instructing graduate-level university courses, completing events sponsored by the BACB and completing or instructing conference presentations, seminars or workshops.

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